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How to Know if You're Ready?

Hey all,

New to CoTH, and looking forward to getting some thoughts/opinions on my current situation. I’m a pretty mid-level rider, a little rusty at the moment as I was 5 months out of work during Spring. This year I plan on buying my first horse.

I bet you all hear & answer questions like this all the time, but I’ll shoot you this one anyway. I’m fairly confident on horseback, and have a very quiet seat/hands. Over the years I’ve ridden in low/children’s hunters, jumpers, and have just come back to eventing. I’ve gone through two years of a half lease and a season of a full lease so I’m confident I know enough about horse care to get by. Riding ~8 years discounting childhood baby lessons.

The twist is, I told my trainer I was planning to start looking in September, and she works with OTTBs frequently. She has a couple at the barn right now that she suggested I try. The one I’m eyeing is only 3-4 months off the track and so still adjusting to her new job, and I’m wondering how you know when you’re ready to take on a ‘project’ or green horse.

I’ve ridden semi-greenies (my first lease was one, I shed a tear at his first flying change) but not like this. I’m kind of daring to be excited by the prospect, and I’m totally interested in the idea of teaching/learning at the same time. I assume by the time I purchase, if I do, I’ll be back in shape and ready to go. I’m a patient person and I’m in no rush to show so those parts of the equation add up.

SO. How do you know if you’re ready to take on a green/prospect horse? I know there’s no checklist, but I guess the part that makes me nervous is what if I’m not a good enough teacher? It sounds sillier on paper than in my head, but if you guys want to share your own stories with OTTB/green horses that you took on as an 20-something or an ammie, I’m keen to listen (er, read?) them. :slight_smile:

Try the horses. Three or four months in work can be a lot with a good trainer working with a sound, good natured horse. Try a lot of horses though, it’s the best way of determining what you are really going to be happiest with.

I think having a good trainer to help you is key. That should be a person who knows OTTB’s in particular, who is willing to get up on the horse and see how things feel, who is patient and does not rush horses.

You should also have a certain amount of savings before you buy any horse; vet emergencies can happen.

3-4 months off the track is not equal to 3-4 months in work I hope; TB’s need a few months of let-down to adjust their metabolisms after racing. Also to adjust their brains. So I’m not sure how much of a greenbean we are talking about. Has this horse been ridden at the current facility?

In any case, if you go the OTTB route I highly recommend Anna Morgan Ford’s book Beyond the Track: Retraining the Thoroughbred from Racecourse to Riding Horse. It’s very informative. Best wishes!

Agree with everything that’s been said so far.
Let me add:
1)Is your trainer familiar with OTTBs & willing to work with you < meaning if you don’t gel with one of her current crop, will you get flak for looking for another horse on your own?
2)OTTB is not like any other greenie.
These horses have had a job since they were long yearlings.
So you’re getting a young horse with a work ethic.
Most load, lead and stand for vet/farrier and are used to being stalled.
Your retraining may (or may not) include getting a right-lead canter as they race counter-clockwise.
Some don’t know how to handle turnout, others have no problem adjusting.

I’ve owned 2 - one 6yo washed out at the track as a 2yo, but worked as a pony horse until I got him. He was my Hunter/Dressage/Eventer for the next 20yrs.
The other was 2 weeks from his last race @ 3.5yo - a sweet-natured guy anyone with some riding experience could get on.
I bought him in partnership, partner bought me out after 6mos, so I don’t know how he ended up.

I knew when I never questioned it. I was willing to put the time in, whatever it took, was successful at the discipline I wanted to do, realized nothing would happen overnight, and I was ready!

Thank you all for your replies!

My trainer has worked with OTTBs for several years, I’m not sure how many, but prior to that trained police horses, and has turned out some good OTTB–> eventer horses that I’ve ridden. I think she wouldn’t be so immature as to not help out with training if I took a different option than the ones we have at the barn, but I guess you never know with horse people. :o)

He’s 2 months in training, specifically, 2 months of rest. Funny about the book-- I ordered it a few days ago, due to its glowing reviews. Still waiting for it to arrive, but I chew through horse books very quickly so rest assured it’ll be read (happily!).

I have a pretty hefty amount saved up, and have told my trainer I won’t buy until I get a steady new job (paid internship just ended, I have my BA for job-seeking & am no longer receiving parental support so this is a venture all my own. /nervous laughter). Don’t worry, I’m painfully aware of expenses, haha! Aren’t we all…

I think you just have to go for it.

Unless the horse is dangerous in some way (doesn’t sound like it) have fun, learn as you go, and when you make a mistake, don’t do that next time.

Most of the time, people here are all about the cautionary tales, but sometimes you just take the plunge. When you go to feed your horse a carrot, there’s something very satisfying about that.

OTTBs can be wonderful because as their personalities come out, they really bond to you.

Good luck!

OP, it depends entirely on the specific OTTB. I had no real knowledge of what mine can do, other than race, but took him anyway because he was injured and I decided ANYTHING he could eventually do under saddle would be a bonus.

Come to find out he fairly well schooled Western. Lead changes, side pass, responds reasonably well to seat aids.

The previous horse I rode off the track years ago knew nothing beyond his racing training.

Ideally if you have or can find a trainer who is used to working with OTTBs, that’ll help. I also find it useful to take a step back and do lots of ground work with them prior to re-training under saddle.You can teach a horse a LOT in the round pen.

Some aren’t good with turnout/herd situations since they’re used to being stalled up.

They have a reputation for being hard keepers. Once mine got rid of some of his racing muscle and fattened up a bit he’s actually become a reasonably easy keeper, although he’s not in heavy work by any means. He get’s zero grain in summer and a small amount of rice bran in winter. Other than that just lots of good hay.

They key with my guy is focus. He’s very energetic and a little spooky/reactive. Focus that energy on the job at hand and he’s great but allow his attention to wander and you’re asking for trouble but that’s true of a lot of horses.

His feet weren’t great off the track, very long in the toe but with good trimming the look a lot better and he goes comfortable barefoot.

With all that said I absolutely love OTTBs. They’re full of personality, smart and loyal. It can take a little work in the beginning to install confidence in them and gain their trust but once you have it, it’s wonderful. After a ride, I can untack my guy, bridle and all, and he’ll follow me to the hose to rinse off then follow me straight back into his corral (bear in mind I keep him at home and do this in an area that’s safe, should he ever decide not to follow me!). He’s very responsive to non-verbal communication which has really helped teach me a lot about myself and how my horses perceive my body language.

I would say, you’re ready when 1) you have a stable income, with insurance, and 2) you have some savings for vet emergencies, and 3) you have some savings for ongoing training or lessons or whatever, to include at least a couple of saddle fit nightmares along the way!

I got my first young horse several years ago, and knew I had $X available monthly for lessons, but it would have been great to have had $3X so that I could have sent him out for a month or two, and/or could have done more than a lesson every other week. That budget line for lessons and training can never really be big enough…

Funny about the book-- I ordered it a few days ago, due to its glowing reviews. Still waiting for it to arrive, but I chew through horse books very quickly so rest assured it’ll be read (happily!). [/QUOTE]

One of the pleasures of that book is numerous photos of gorgeous luscious OTTB’s doing every imaginable kind of job. Makes my heart hurt, they are all so noble.

Do you have to get an OTTB? From this board alone that will set you up for unsoundness issues and massive vet bills and nothing to ride. Seems like I would choose another breed to start with. OTTB isn’t the only horse that can do hunters/ jumpers.

You can get a green prospect without all the baggage.

IMO, if you would fall apart without a trainer, then a project horse is not the horse for you. Even though you have a trainer right now, things can change. You don’t want to end up with a horse you can’t enjoy on your own.

My first horse was green broke, though I didn’t realize it. At the time I was about 14 and don’t think I even knew what leads and diagonals were. My second horse was an un-started 2 year old. We did just fine. First horse won her fair share of classes at local shows, second one got pretty good ribbons at “A” rated breed shows. I never had a trainer and rarely took lessons… couldn’t afford it. There was a trainer and a few experienced people around for me to watch and learn from, and a slightly older friend that gave me pointers fairly regularly. I think if you have to ask if you’re capable, you either worry too much or you’re not ready.